Bethany English

Thurayya UmBayemake and her mother Linda UmBayemake are spending their Thursday evenings for the next nine weeks at the Kent Police Department—for fun.

Along with 18 other Kent area residents, the mother-daughter pair is learning the finer points of a police officer’s job through the city’s first Citizen Police Academy.

For Lt. Paul Canfield, this free, 12-week program is another way to connect with the community and to eradicate stereotypes police officers battle daily. These misconceptions, Canfield said, range from citizens thinking officers are “out to get people” to the idea that police work is easy.

“People’s perception of what police do is actually significantly different than the reality of what we do,” Canfield said.

The program is meant to be an educational opportunity for all, but it’s also a chance to spend time together for some participants such as the UmBayemakes and another mother-daughter duo, Debbie and Dianne Bartels.

Thurayya said she and her mother don’t often do things together, but she thought this course would appeal to them both as Linda, now a board member of National Alliance on Mental Illness, previously worked as a police officer in Cleveland.

“That’s why when I saw this I was like, ‘Hey mom, would you be interested?’” Thurayya said.

And Linda was interested as she demonstrated by participating in discussions and scribbling down notes during the classes. Linda said it would be a good opportunity to understand how law enforcement had changed since her experiences years ago and to connect with her daughter.

“Maybe (it will) give her a chance to understand me more,” she said after she explained that she had been more “tomboyish” than most mothers.

With classes lasting between three to four hours, the Citizen Police Academy doesn’t come cheaply. It’s free for participants, but the total cost of the program is about $14,000, with the bulk of the money used to pay officers who act as lecturers for the class, Canfield said.

The Kent Police Department used money from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant, which totaled $45,000, to take the Academy from an idea to a reality. Canfield said the remaining funds have also been used to further the mission of connecting with the community by providing an additional K-9 unit as well as increased neighborhood patrols.

Although the concept is new to Kent, other programs to educate citizens about police work exist throughout the nation. After researching these kinds of programs, Canfield said he discovered that more than 50 of these courses exist on a state-wide level.

Jon Evans of Rootstown, a lab manager at Ametek, said this could help younger people in Kent understand the roles of police in the city. Even students, who will likely leave in a few years, could benefit from understanding the role of officers in the community.

“Being young, you have an immediate dislike for police because you have this it’s-us-against-them mentality,” said Evans.

Canfield said the Citizen Police Academy will be offered again next spring, and the current plan is to make it a bi-annual program at the Kent Police Department. Students in the class are touting the merits of the idea.

“I hope that they continue with this,” Evans said. “It’s a great way to see exactly what a police officer does.”